songs, will travel
in speech, Bryn Terfel's words have the blend of lyricism
and rhetoric that is at the heart of Eistedfodd culture. Recently,
Falstaff excepted, he has been exploring his demonic side
with roles such as Don Giovanni and Sweeney Todd, and in July,
Mephistopheles in the new Covent Garden Faust but, in conversation,
he is affability itself.
is most keen to talk about his two non-musical loves, wine
and golf. With wine there are musical connections, as when
he made a visit to Martinborough's Te Kairanga Estate four
years ago. "When I walked in they were playing the Treorchy
Male Voice Choir to their wines."
the golf course he is often alongside fellow singers, such
as Thomas Hampson and Barbara Bonney. "So many colleagues
have taken up golf because for five hours you forget about
everything. There are no tunes in your head and you're not
thinking about the next plane you're catching."
Welsh-speaking boy who learned English from watching television
and music from performing at local Eistedfodds has come a
long way. His Welshness is a personal signature - "the
fact I'm a Welshman comes first" - and he speaks up for
the value of his early musical training.
had rules about performance, the conveying of poetry and good
diction drummed into me from the age of 4."
was 15 years ago that he was runner-up to Dimitri Hvorostovsky
in the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World competition, although
his prize for Best Lieder singer was "scant consolation,
something to show they felt sorry for Bryn coming from Wales".
you are a wonderful Lieder singer," I break in.
wasn't then. I cringe when I look at the tapes. Actually I
cringe about all my singing in 1989."
biggest break came soon after, working with Sir George Solti
in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. "I did the smallest role,
the gardener Antonio, and from 12 pages of music I received
so many offers of work."
his operatic successes, the concert platform is also important
to Terfel, who won over his Auckland audience in 2000 when
he walked on stage sporting an All Black supporters' scarf.
give me a chance to talk to an audience, which will be especially
nice with my opening number next week, Vaughan Williams' Songs
of Travel. What a wonderful set of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson,
and they're set fantastically. I may ask the audience at the
end what they thought about them; I might even get my new
accompanist, Anders Kilstrom, to say something about the Tosti
programme will be "90 per cent English - Vaughan Williams,
Gurney, Warlock, Quilter, Britten - it's me wanting to sing
the pearls of the English repertoire along with some very
he admits a Lieder concert should be in a small theatre for
500 people, Terfel is not precious about his art. "I've
never considered myself as a recitalist. I'm more of a guy
who loves to sing songs."
is this populist spirit that led him to set up the award-winning
Faenol Festival in Wales, which draws artists ranging from
Jose Carreras and Denyce Graves to our own Hayley Westenra.
audience of 12,000 were bowled over by Hayley. She won't be
a soprano who will sing Tosca, but she is a beautiful, feather-like
creature with a petite, beautiful voice. When she thanked
them in Welsh, the audience was in the palm of her hand."
present, Terfel has "a big ball and chain around my feet
learning two Wagner roles by the end of December" - although
working from scores that used to belong to the legendary George
London is a bonus.
see all his markings and sympathise with everything, mostly
breathing marks and how Wotan feels at different moments.
London wrote in his score, something which our generation
don't do that much."
defends the singers of today. "We're a new generation
and in some ways a lot more flexible, travelling a lot more
and playing in different cities."
flew to Vienna to do a Figaro with only one rehearsal. "It
created an amazingly exciting performance. You were on the
balls of the feet all the time reacting immediately to the
colleagues around you; it was a real team effort."
truth, Terfel can't afford the weeks of rehearsal that companies
like Covent Garden demand: seven weeks for a new production,
three for a revival. He tackles only two new productions a
year. "I have to be home for my children, which for the
opera houses is shocking.
most of these people who run opera houses don't have families.
Last year I quarrelled with Covent Garden to have at least
five days home at Christmas and it was if I had wanted 10
boxes in the Royal Opera House for myself for each performance.
They just wouldn't budge."
are happier stories, such as that of Stephen Sondheim visiting
his dressing room after Chicago's Sweeney Todd and telling
him to "sing the wonderful top-F at the end of the song
Epiphany for ever".
English press were generally less sympathetic to Neil Armfield's
production of Sweeney when it opened in London, with Thomas
Allen taking over from Terfel in the title role. Terfel was
shocked. "There's one critic who didn't have one positive
thing to say. There are not many evenings that you can come
out of saying there's nothing you enjoyed."
solution is curious. "I wish someone would write a review,
keep it, then go and see the opera at the end, write another
review and mix them all together and say that's the one."
Todd was a huge commercial success for the Royal Opera, helped
by more affordable ticket pricing. "You could have a
top-class seat for £75 ($203)," Terfel says. I
make a quick currency conversion and gasp, but the singer
assures me that a Manchester United Game would have cost him
£60 ($162) and top tickets at the Salzburg Festival
run to £300 ($815).
aside, Terfel adores the buzz of musical theatre, something
that comes out in his various CDs. "These songs weren't
written for people with microphones. They were written for
people with training and vocal resources - just think of Ezio
people think I'm pulling down my art form, but I've done my
homework and been to specialists. What it boils down to is
giving it a performance. It doesn't matter how you sing them,
if you sing them to a certain standard and bring them alive."
a diversion discussing "every singer's worst nightmare"
- Simon Keenlyside still getting faxes of material for Thomas
Ade's new opera two months before opening; Richard Burton
and Julie Andrews having to learn a Camelot that was the size
of Parsifal for a Toronto tryout and then reduce its five
hours to three for the Broadway run - Terfel concludes his
would be "singing Don Giovanni and Leporello in the same
week, because you couldn't stop yourself from singing the
best lines of the role you weren't playing".
present challenge is a rock opera written by another golf
buddy, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. "It's wonderful to
see things from The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon coming
through in the music."
singer was surprised when I brought up his recent BBC radio
appearance on Desert Island Discs, where Frank Sinatra's One
for My Baby was on the bill. "Sinatra was a master of
being so flexible and so cool and, in those old black-and-white
television programmes, there was just him in a suit with a
Thursday Bryn Terfel may well show the same mastery, without
Who: Bryn Terfel
Where and when: Aotea Centre, February 5, 8pm
August 6, 2004 0:52
link thanks to Steve MacDonald. Not for reproduction